Denver Broncos head coach Sean Payton is going to be the engine for the pending rebuild. Can we see a quick turnaround in the Mile High City for a winning-starved team? Sean Payton inherited a huge mess in Denver that seemed to be covered up for years by excellent defensive coaches.
Honestly, at least it's only one side of the ball that needs major work. And to be fair to Payton, he's had several years in New Orleans where his defenses ranked among the worst in the NFL. He has been at the head of a major defensive change, and that change began in 2017 and continued for the rest of his tenure as their head coach.
This isn't uncharted territory for Payton, but it's certainly territory that I don't think he expected to be in. In fact, he's quoted in USA Today saying that "I'm going to be pissed off if this is not a playoff team."
Well, not only are the Broncos nothing close to a playoff team right now, but they are arguably the worst team in the entire NFL. And no matter what the national NFL talking heads say about Payton and Russell Wilson, the primary issues with this team are Vance Joseph and the defensive personnel. Both Vic Fangio and Ejiro Evero were clearly masterminds at their jobs in Denver because it's clear this unit is sorely lacking in talent.
Honestly, outside of Patrick Surtain, Zach Allen (who the team can't move on from yet, and possibly DJ Jones, a quality run-stuffing NT, the rest of the players on defense are either solid backups for the team or can and should be moved on from. There aren't many players on defense currently for the Denver Broncos that are going to be on the team or starting in 2024.
Well, how is Sean Payton going to fix this massive issue? Can he do it within one offseason? Well, he did overhaul the offense a bit, and that unit is one of the more efficient ones in the NFL. I trust that the unit can only grow stronger with another year of Payton's coaching. I don't think we need to worry about the offense going forward. Russell Wilson is on pace to throw for over 4,000 yards and 34 touchdowns, which would be some solid production.
The big question I have is even if Russell Wilson keeps that play up, I don't think there is a guarantee that he's on the team next year. If the Broncos continue to lose, they may just be in line to select one of the best QBs in the upcoming 2024 NFL Draft. Ultimately, I think this team stabilizes a little bit and probably picks closer to 10th overall.
How does Sean Payton fix the Denver Broncos?
I think first and foremost, Payton needs to clear some cap space, as Overthecap.com states that the Broncos are going to be around $19 million over the cap in 2024. That's a lot, but it's not an impossible number to overcome. In fact, a few moves can put them in the positives for next year.
The "big 3" moves that I think this team does, barring a huge turnaround, are trading Garett Bolles, Courtland Sutton, and Justin Simmons. if all three are traded by the deadline this season, the Denver Broncos would enjoy cap savings of $44,000,000, once again according to overthecap.com.
Well, the Broncos would then have about $23 million in cap space available for them to spend. They could also get about $5 million more by trading Josey Jewell in 2023, which would bring them to about $28 million in cap space. The team could create a hair over $10 million more by restructuring Mike McGlinchey's contract, which puts them at about $38 million.
They could also restructure Ben Powers' contract, which saves them a hair over $7 million. The Broncos could feasibly get themselves to nearly $50 million in cap space in 2024 with these moves. I understand that restructuring contracts isn't always the best plan of action, as it basically just kicks the can down the road if you will.
However, if Payton wants to see this quick turnaround, that might be what he has to do.
Well, what could the Denver Broncos do with all that cap space?
I think if Payton and his likely new general manager do out of their way to create all this cap space, we could see the team again be active in free agency. I'd think if they changed anything on offense, we could see some additions at wide receiver and tight end.
If the team does end up trading away Courtland Sutton, the room is left with Jerry Jeudy (who also certainly could get traded), Marvin Mims Jr, and Tim Patrick as the top three. There is clearly some room for someone else to come along. Dare I suggest someone like Tee Higgins?
He's a free agent at the end of the season and he and the Cincinnati Bengals haven't yet been able to agree to a contract extension. The Broncos parting ways with Sutton allows them the flexibility to be aggressive at WR, and Higgins is plenty good enough to be a WR1. He's currently playing alongside Ja'Marr Chase, who is excellent, but Higgins is also very, very good.
Payton would now have a big-bodied, consistent target who is obviously a better player than Sutton and Patrick, who also feature a similar skillset to Higgins.
A WR trio of Higgins, Jeudy, and Mims would be lethal, right?
At tight end, I don't really think Payton is entirely sold on Adam Trautman and Greg Dulcich as the main core going forward. Dulcich is a good receiving threat, but he hasn't been able to stay healthy.
Someone who is projected to be a free agent at the end of the year is Dalton Schultz, a current Houston Texan and former Dallas Cowboy. Schultz had 2,000 yards over a three-year span in Dallas and is an all-around tight end who could side in for Trautman and make a nice trio with Dulcich and Chris Manhertz.
Would those two moves be enough to help the offense take another step? Well, the two other positions that could need some attention would be center, as Lloyd Cushenberry is a free agent at the end of the year, and Garett Bolles, who I think the team can easily trade. To me, these two positions could be given attention in the 2024 NFL Draft. I think Sean Payton has a pretty solid record drafting and developing along the offensive line, so I think he'd know what to do to fill those two holes.
Defensively, Payton might have much more work to do. I could see Payton use the trade market, free agency, and the 2024 NFL Draft to fix this unit. There are really so many avenues Payton can do here. One thing that I think will happen is the Broncos utilizing the FA market to try and re-tool the secondary. I think this is perhaps the weakest position group on the roster.
Trying to bring in quick fixes would be smart. He doesn't necessarily have to break the bank, either. The team clearly needs a CB2. Perhaps someone like L'Jarius Sneed or Adoree' Jackson, two 2024 free agents, could come in and hole that role down.
The team may also want someone who can live up in the slot as well. That could be a target for the 2024 NFL Draft. Adding another body at safety would also be wise. The free agent market seems pretty deep as of now, but I don't think we'd see Sean Payton break the bank here. Signing a mid-level starter to pair with a healthy Caden Sterns seems like a wise move. Jordan Whitehead comes to mind.
The one group that I really hope Sean Payton stocks up is along the defensive front. I'm not sure anyone outside of DJ Jones and Zach Allen should be in this starting lineup next year. I think going EDGE or DL with the Broncos' first-round pick in 2024 is a wise move, unless, of course, the team has something within the top three or five picks.
Denver can do in so many directions here. Players who are projected to be free agents along the defensive front include Chris Jones, Leonard Williams, Marcus Davenport, Chase Young, Carl Lawson, Javon Kinlaw, Brian Burns, Danielle Hunter, Yannick Ngakoue, and many others. I don't think it'd be a bad idea at all to bring in someone else at DE perhaps and go strong with the pass rush in 2024.
I'm talking about multiple draft picks along the front seven, but also investing in a proven player as well. Danielle Hunter is my favorite target thus far in 2024. He's already got five sacks in three games for the Minnesota Vikings in 2023. And the team doesn't seem super set on re-signing him in the offseason.
I mean, there are just so many different routes that the Denver Broncos can take in the 2024 NFL offseason to get this team to rebound quickly. Would this hypothetical offseason be enough?